Publication Details

Jooste, L. 2007, 'An evaluation of the usefulness of cash flow ratios to predict financial distress', Acta Commercii, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 1-13.


Purpose: With the introduction of the cash flow statement it became an integral part of financial reporting. A need arose to develop ratios for the effective evaluation of cash flow information. This article investigates cash flow ratios suggested by various researchers and suggests a list of ratios with the potential to predict financial failure. Design: The cash flow ratios suggested by researchers, from as early as 1966, are investigated and eight cash flow ratios selected for inclusion in an analysis to predict financial failure. Ten failed entities are selected for a cash flow evaluation by means of the selected ratios for five years prior to failure. For a comparison, non-failed entities, in similar sectors are selected and also evaluated by means of the cash flow ratios. The mean values of each ratio, for each year prior to failure, were then calculated and the means of the failed entities were compared to the non-failed entities. Findings: The comparison revealed that cash flow ratios have predictive value with the cash flow to total debt identified as the best indicator of failure. It was also determined that although failed entities have lower cash flows than non-failed entities, they also had smaller reserves of liquid assets. Furthermore, they have less capacity to meet debt obligations and they tend to incur more debt. The ratios of the failed entities were unstable and fluctuated from one year to the next. Finally, bankruptcy could be predicted three years prior to financial failure. Implications: Income statement and balance sheet ratios are not enough to measure liquidity. An entity can have positive liquidity ratios and increasing profits, yet have serious cash flow problems. Ratios developed from the cash flow statement should supplement traditional accrual-based ratios to provide additional information on the financial strengths and weaknesses of an entity.

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Acta Commercii